The Wagner Group is a Russian private military company that is sometimes referred to as a “proxy organization” of the government. The mercenaries have been involved in activities described as “working to suppress pro-democracy protests, spreading disinformation, mining for gold and diamonds, and engaging in paramilitary activity.” They have played an important role in spreading Russian influence across the globe.
The group was active in Ukraine during Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. They have also played a role in Syria fighting in support of the Assad regime, Libya, and Sudan. Additionally, they have been present in regions throughout Africa. Earlier this year, the mercenaries arrived in Mali to combat violent extremists after French forces withdrew.
As private military companies are illegal in Russia, the government has denied ties to the group, despite obvious connections. Yevgeny Prigozhin, also known as “Putin’s Chef”, is said to financially support the Wagner Group. Dmitry Utkin, the founder of the Wagner Group, was a former lieutenant colonel in the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency. Members of the group also train at camps shared by Russian Special Forces and have been documented on Russian transport aircraft.
It is no surprise that the Wagner Group is playing a role in the current war in Ukraine. The UK government announced sanctions on the group and said the mercenaries are being used to assassinate Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky.
Before the invasion, they were deployed to enhance separatist forces. European and US officials said the mercenaries would be used in false flag operations, acting as Ukrainian forces attacking civilians.
Reports have now surfaced that the Wagner Group has increased its presence in Ukraine. In February, there were an estimated 300 members which has now increased to around 1,000. These additional mercenaries have been relocating from Libya and Syria, as well as their artillery, air defenses, and radar. Russian military aircraft have reportedly been used to support the move. Some leaders from the group are also expected to arrive in Donetsk and Luhansk. The new influx in personnel are said to support the fight against Ukraine’s forces in the Donbas region.
It seems Wagner Group mercenaries are now taking on a larger role in the conflict. Although the total numbers of mercenaries in Ukraine remains low, the slow increase threatens the strong resistance of Ukrainian forces.